Panasonic Lumix FX90 £269.99
24th Feb 2012 | 15:52
A function-packed quality compact camera with Wi-Fi
Overview and features
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 attempts to bridge the gap between a compact camera's ability to capture quality prints and a smartphone's ability to share shots to a social network.
As a member of Panasonic's range of Lumix branded compacts, the FX90 shares many features and functions with the slightly cheaper Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX77, but has the added bonus of built-in Wi-Fi connectivity to enable you to send shots to your smartphone while out and about, then upload them to the web.
You can also wirelessly link the Panasonic Lumix FX90 to your PC and upload the shots without having to connect the camera via USB or insert your SD card into a memory card slot.
Priced at £269.99 in the UK, typical compact camera features are present and correct, including the usual Scene modes such as Portrait and Sport, although it's also packed with extra modes such as a well-designed Panorama Assist.
This mode enables you to overlay the edge of one frame over the live view feed to help compose and capture the next shot in the panoramic sequence - although you'll need to stitch the shots together in an image editor.
There's also an effective Handheld Night Shot mode, which blasts off a series of stills and then automatically combines them into one image to reduce noise and motion blur. In an effort to boost its list of functions, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 also has some superfluous shooting modes such as Food, which simply changes the white balance to suit the colour temperature of typical restaurant lighting.
If you own a Panasonic 3D TV, such as the Panasonic TX-P50VT30B, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90's 3D Photo Mode will be of interest, because it enables you to combine two offset shots into one stereophonic image, which it saves as an MPO format file.
As a compact camera designed to appeal to the face-tagging generation, the Panasonic DMC-FX90 enables you to register friends' faces, so that the camera will prioritise focusing on those individuals in a group scene.
As you pan or zoom, an Auto Focus box will latch onto a familiar face and even display their name on the camera's display. The face-tagging option is fairly hit and miss, since it won't always recognise your registered subjects.
The AF tracking option is more useful. Tap on the screen over the object that you want to keep sharp and the camera will attempt to track it. This is useful if the object moves, or if you want to pan around to offset the subject for a more creative composition.
Although it's a compact, the Panasonic Lumix FX90 enables you to shoot Full HD video footage at 1980 x 1080p, and save clips in the popular AVCHD or MP4 formats.
The movie and still recording functions take full advantage of the camera's Mega O.I.S (optical image stabilisation) function to reduce camera-induced motion blur. This works by using gyros to keep the lens stable rather than by post-processing the shot.
Build quality and handling
Measuring a petite 4.02 x 2.22 x 0.85 inches, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 will happily share a pocket with an iPhone, but its 12.1MP sensor will enable you to produce much larger images.
Like an iPhone, the Panasonic Lumix FX90 has a touchscreen. You can tap the 3-inch Smart Touch screen to focus on a particular subject and trigger the shutter once focus is achieved (or you can use the more traditional shutter button if you prefer).
Many of the Panasonic FX90's menu icons are on the small side, and you need to do a fair bit of tapping and dragging to change metering modes or find a suitable focus mode, for example.
Indeed, by the time you've finished rummaging around in the menus to tweak a setting or change to a different mode, the bird may have flown. On the plus side, when shooting in Normal mode you can customise the touchscreen's menu to place some of your favourite icons closer to hand, which speeds things up.
You also have the option of using a stylus, although this feels like a step back when you're familiar with interacting with an iPhone or similar using only a finger.
Although lacking the responsiveness of an iPhone's touchscreen, the FX90's Leica DC Vario-Summarit lens should be able to capture a better-looking picture than a smartphone's lens.
The compact camera's ability to zoom from the equivalent of a wide 24mm to a tight 120mm gives you much more compositional control than you'd get with a smartphone's digital zoom. By offering a wide f-stop of f/2.5, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 can produce less noisy results in low light than a typical smartphone camera. You can manually increase the ISO up to 1600 for extra light sensitivity, and still produce decent looking results.
As with most cameras, you sometimes need to take a few shots with the Panasonic FX90 before getting a decent picture. In the field, we found the Scene modes could be a bit hit and miss.
When shooting in Landscape mode on a dull day, the camera sometimes produced blurry images due to camera shake. Instead of opening the aperture wider than f/5.5, it slowed the shutter speed to 1/20, hence the blur. However, by snapping a few shots of the same scene we were able to get a sharp shot in the same conditions.
To give the camera a helping hand you can also pop into a sub-menu and set the minimum shutter speed to a higher value to reduce motion blur.
When viewed on the FX90's LCD display, image quality looks good. But when viewed on a computer at 100%, you might spot some compression artefacts such as blocky patches and posterised colours, espcially in high sensitivity shots, but the results are pretty respectable.
Thanks to the excellent quality of the Leica lens, the Panasonic Lumix FX90 doesn't suffer from the problem of chromatic aberration that spoils shots from some other compacts. Even at a wide angle setting there's little barrelling, so vertical lines in architectural shots remain relatively straight.
The lens's quality helps you to produce shots that don't require lens correction in post-production packages such as Photoshop, enabling you to spend less time editing and more time shooting.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90X, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please check out the full article.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 14 (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG images from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 are on a par with those from the Nikon Coolpix S9100, but has the advantage of a lower minimum sensitivity of ISO 100.
This chart indicates that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90's JPEGs are on a par with the Canon IXUS 230 HS. Whilst the Fujifilm Finepix F550 EXR has a better dynamic range at lower sensitivities the Panasonic FX90 captures a more consistant tonal range throughout the sensitivity settings.
LENS QUALITY:The high quality Leica lens helps you avoid adding colour fringes to high contrast edges.
SPORTS:There's a Scene mode for every scenario. Sports mode helps you keep moving subjects looking nice and sharp.
COLOUR:The Happy Color mode enhances the brightness and vividness of the shot's colours and tones.
NIGHT: To avoid blur, the clever Handheld Night Shot mode takes a burst of shots and composites them together in-camera.
PORTRAIT:The camera excels at capturing colourful pictures of everyday activities; with face recognition technology to hep you focus on family and friends.
FLASH: By mixing flash with a slow shutter speed, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 can capture detail in the foreground and low light background.
CLOSE-UP:Thanks to the powerful Leica lens, you can zoom in for a close-up without distracting your subject.
WIDE:You have more control over composition thanks to the 5x optical zoom. Here we have a wide shot and a tight zoom taken from the same point.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 100 Image, see the cropped (100%) versions below
The Panasonic Lumix FX90 may lack the option to shoot in raw format, but it's perfect for those who want to shoot and share web-friendly JPEGs without having to process each shot.
The camera is packed full of useful features such as the Panorama Assist mode, as well as a few superfluous modes such as the ability to add cheesy picture frames in-camera.
Some of the touchscreen controls are less effective than others. For example, by dragging your finger over the on-screen zoom icon you make the lens zoom in or out, but we found this virtual control was less responsive than the more tactile zoom button at the top of the camera.
When it comes to capturing a photo opportunity you can relax and save time by letting the camera's Intelligent Auto Mode choose the appropriate ISO, white balance and focus settings, instead of tinkering with menus.
The Leica lens helps reduce lens distortion and colour fringing. It's great to tap the Wi-Fi button and pop the shots onto our PC without a cable.
The Smart Touch screen's fiddly icons make it harder to change settings quickly. Heavy compression settings add too many artefacts for a large print.
If you want to capture the antics of friends and family and share the images on a social network site or an iPad, then this camera will happily do the job, thanks to its welcome Wi-Fi connectivity.